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©Marko Kokic / International Federation

Protecting Namibia's Himba people

In the face of globalization, a small group of tribal pastoralists living in north-western Namibia, the Himba, have largely managed to retain their traditional way of life. Sadly, some of their very customs and traditions threaten to wipe them out.

Certain Himba cultural practices make them particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection. They practice polygamy. Older men rich in cattle tend to monopolize the women, taking several wives.

Sexual activity starts early. Women are wed through pre-arranged marriages and most fall pregnant very young. Himba women suffer from the highest maternal death rate in the country. Funded by the American Red Cross, the Opuwo Red Cross branch started a reproductive health project in 2001 addressing this and related problems.

"We teach the Himba and others about pre- and post-natal care, contraception, family planning as well as, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS," says reproductive health coach, Reheza Tyiraso.

The Himba have begun to intermarry with the other tribes — with the Zemba and the Herrero. By marrying out of their tribe they have exposed themselves to HIV/AIDS. Last year, there were seven reported cases of HIV/AIDS in and around Opuwo including Himba.

Even if some Himba grasp the catastrophic implications of HIV/AIDS in their community, it remains a daunting challenge to convince everyone of the urgency of the problem.

"I think people will use condoms if they understand why it is so important. It all depends on the information provided," says Himba Red Cross volunteer Kautorona Muharukua.

The Himba people will have some difficult choices to make. If they succeed in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in their community, it will surely be at the cost of some of their cherished cultural practices and traditions.

©Ursula Meissner / ICRC

Emergency training

In September 2003, the ICRC organized with the ministry of health and the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) first-aid training sessions in Palestinian territories including Ramallah, Gaza, Hebron, Jenin and Bethlehem. A total of 360 people attended these courses. These courses are designed for ambulance staff, nurses, medical doctors and emergency room personnel. They are part of a training programme initiated in 2001. This training concentrates on providing the necessary skills to effectively respond to emergency calls in the current context of the obstruction of movement of health professionals and patients within the occupied territories. The ICRC cooperation with PRCS includes dissemination of humanitarian law, tracing and restoration of family

©François Florin / Fondation Hirondelle

Radio Hirondelle

The Henry Dunant Foundation awarded its 2003 prize to the Fondation Hirondelle for its outstanding contribution in the field of media information in war zones. The prize aims at acknowledging persons or organizations working for the development and the renewal of Henry Dunant's ideals.

Based in Geneva, Fondation Hirondelle is producing independent radio and other media programmes in war-torn and developing countries, working alone or in partnership with the United Nations. It has initiated Star Radio in Liberia, Blue Sky in Kosovo and Radio Agatashya for Rwanda, Burundi and Kivu. Today Fondation Hirondelle is running Radio Ndeke Luka in the Central African Republic, the Information Agency at the Arusha international penal tribunal, as well as Radio Okapi in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

©International Federation

A first for first aid

On Saturday, 13 September, some 100 Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies across five continents celebrated the first-ever "World First Aid Day" under the theme of: "First Aid — a gesture of humanity which makes the difference". Events highlighted the importance that simple gestures can make in saving lives and building safer and more humane communities.

Every one of the 178 member societies of the International Federation is engaged in first-aid programmes. "First aid is an expression of solidarity, and solidarity is more than just a worthy and heart-warming notion," says Markku Niskala, the Federation's secretary general ad interim. "Solidarity saves lives, not just in disaster situations but also in everyday circumstances, in the workplace, on the road, on the beach, in the home. Solidarity is a state of mind that enables people to protect and support each other, regardless of race, religion or ethnic group. Solidarity is caring and sometimes it's the difference between life and death."

"First aid reaches all sectors of the population. Tens of millions of people are cared for by Red Cross and Red Crescent first aiders each year. Millions are also trained each year in basic, life saving techniques, and at least as many lives are saved," explains Dr. Eric Bernes, in charge of first-aid programmes at the secretariat in Geneva. "First aid is more than a technique — it is a smile, a hand on someone's shoulder, a humane attitude. It is also more than an immediate emergency response, it is also about prevention."

Practical examples are numerous around the world. In Kumasi, Ghana, taxi drivers have been trained in first aid — within the first year, more than 60 per cent had used their skills. After the dramatic outbreak of SARS in Asia, first-aid courses were effectively used to spread vital information on basic hygiene measures. In the Philippines, first-aid training has helped to integrate street
children back into the community. In Algeria, Red Crescent volunteers continue to give victims of last May's devastating earthquake essential psychological support. In Colombia, the population relies on Red Cross volunteers for vital help to victims of internal violence.

It is the ordinary people and volunteers, often non-professionals, who mobilize themselves to provide that initial help and make the difference, on a day-to-day basis and at the scene of crisis. Red Cross Red Crescent first-aid education is about instilling that vital confidence to act and change behaviour.

©Thierry Gassmann / ICRC

Prisoners back home

On 1 September, the ICRC repatriated 243 Moroccan prisoners released by the Polisario Front. They included 13 officers, one of whom had been in captivity for 28 years, together with 14 civilians. ICRC delegates, including two doctors, spoke to each prisoner in private to establish that he was returning of his own free will. The prisoners left Tindouf (Algeria) on an ICRC-chartered aircraft and were handed over to the Moroccan authorities at the Inezgane military base, near Agadir. Since January 2000, the ICRC has repatriated 946 Moroccan prisoners. Currently, 914 others are still deprived of their freedom, and over half of them have been held for more than 20 years. Pending their repatriation, the ICRC is continuing to visit them and to provide them with medical care. The organization is also maintaining contact and delivering Red Cross messages between prisoners and their families, delivering parcels from the families and visiting them in Morocco. Considering the deteriorating health of those still in captivity, the ICRC has once again appealed for their immediate release, in accordance with international humanitarian law.

A crucial mines meeting in Bangkok

From 15 to 19 September, the Fifth Meeting of the states parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction (the Ottawa Convention) was held in Bangkok. The meeting took place at a critical moment. With the Convention's First Review Conference scheduled to take place at the end of 2004, it helped launch efforts to ensure that governments arrive at next year's Conference prepared to renew their commitment to the goals of the Ottawa Convention and to its full implementation.

Six years ago, the adoption of the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines brought tremendous hope to mine-affected communities around the world. Much has been achieved since the Convention was adopted in December 1997. A total of 136 states have ratified or acceded to the Convention — the most recent being Belarus (possessing some 4.5 million anti-personnel mines) on 3 September. States Parties have destroyed over 30 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines. Mine clearance activities are ongoing in the majority of mine-affected countries in the world. Most importantly, wherever the Convention's rules are being upheld, lives and livelihoods are being saved — the annual number of mine victims has fallen by as much as two thirds in countries like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, and Croatia.

Yet the Convention's ambitious deadlines for the complete clearance of mines, beginning for many states in 2009, and its long-term promise of care and rehabilitation to landmine victims, will demand sustained political interest and increased resources in the years to come.

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